Chenjiapu, China

Photo: GAD Architecture

Today you’re leaving the city. You’re leaving the coast, too. You’re heading southwest toward majestic green mountains. Hills, terraced with tea plantations, flow in between them. They’re always covered with mist first thing in the morning. Small villages are tucked into these hillsides. Their traditional, tightly clustered houses are being restored and turned into shops, restaurants, and teahouses. People are starting to return to the abandoned countryside.

This renaissance is happening in the most surprising spot: China. It’s a country that placed little value on historic sites for years. Old towns were demolished. New buildings quickly went up in their place. The past was immediately forgotten. So this change of heart is a very big deal.

Songyang County is in Zhejiang, a province along the East China Sea that’s considered the backbone of China’s economy. In 2014, Xu Tiantian, an architect from Beijing, began surveying and overhauling villages in this rural area. Some were hundreds of years old and long-neglected. Factories, museums, and theaters are now being saved. Houses are liveable again. People are coming back.

Chenjiapu is one of these villages. It clings to the side of Dazhong Mountain. Many of its houses were long abandoned. Only a handful of residents remained. Then Chenjiapu Bookstore opened. It carries books about agriculture and local history. They make a damn good espresso there, too.

A design hotel followed. Stray Birds Art Hotel has sloping walls that flow into the terrain and windows with sweeping views of the valley. Days start with breakfast dumplings and peaceful hikes. They’ll usually end in your room’s deep-soaking tub with a cup of steaming green tea. Just try to tear yourself away—it won’t be as easy as you think.

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